Mark 5:34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease."
Today we witness the presence of God at work as Jesus encounters two females who are in crisis, and in many ways, separated by numerous societal mores. One is a nameless elderly woman who has been ill for a very long time. She is poor because she has used her money to pay for doctors who couldn’t help her; she is broken in spirited and out of options. In many ways she is silenced and alienated, and by extension, invisible to a world where discrimination against both women and the aged is encouraged. For many she is of little worth and value and has no place within the community.
Then we have a twelve-year-old girl, also nameless in Mark’s gospel, who is the daughter of Jairus, a local religious leader of important stature in his synagogue and in his society. Jairus’ daughter has all her life ahead of her and she is of good stock. Based upon normative human thinking she should have been more entitled to God’s care and attention.
It is into this social divide Jesus steps and makes this a break-out moment to reveal God’s love in new and limitless ways. But the depth of the story must be explored by understanding that Jesus did not make the first move. The desperate hope of the alienated woman drove her to boldly declare her faith in Jesus, and she reached out to touch his robes; just his robes. In Mark, Jesus feels that his powers had been compromised and wanted to know “who touched me”. She was brought to face Jesus, and she approached him in fear. Again, Jesus was her last resort after living a life of shame, pain and suffering now she stands in deep fear in the presence of her only hope.
You see my friends, what is at stake goes much deeper than physical healing. This story speaks directly to this nameless woman, this woman who, like us, is discriminated against, who has limited opportunity, who lives in fear of persecution and alienation from society, friends and family. This story speaks directly to her ability to sustain hope in the midst of daunting circumstances. This story depicts the true nature of faith in God. Hope for her is not that which is often packaged as God’s providence and all will work out “in the sweet by and by”.
This concept of hope is hopelessness repackaged as a sweet tasting placebo. It is easy to talk faith if it is pretty. This is hopelessness that lulls the outcast and invisible to accept their position the victim and the voiceless against those who trample over their rightful place, their right to live without fear. This woman could have simply known and accepted her place and stood on the side to allow Jesus to pass her by.
Sadly, this seems to be the hopeless resignation that has swept through our urban communities who, after struggling to live life on the fringes, have come to accept their delegated fate and have come to believe that God no longer cares or hears their cries.
Urban churches have found themselves floundering in these communities as they struggle to inject some new concepts of hope to a disheartened people and shares in the responsibility with those who have consigned these communities to ongoing despair.
The urban church in many ways is no different than David in the Old Testament reading who wails in lamentation at the death of Saul and Johnathan as he is overcome with the guilt that he carries within him for the part he played in the destruction of Saul’s ministry. David’s lamentations and some of the psalms attributed to him are his act of remorse coupled with the hope for reparation and restitution to Saul’s family. David sets the standard by which ministry should be shaped within our urban communities.
My recent blog on mental illness within our community received a great response and over 1500 persons read it and many of those left comments. I share this not as a boast but with the hope that by giving voice to the voiceless it will help others be bold enough to act and not live in fear of disrupting the order of the day.
My friends, many African American parents invest a tremendous amount of time and energy in their children, especially in their sons, teaching them to ‘know their place’ if they wish to survive the oppressive world of racism in.
Many of our abused women must also have to suffer “victim blaming”. We all have to know our place! Many are aware of the risks involved in disturbing the status quo of those who assume power. There is always the overt threat incorporated within conversations and interactions between the powerful and the powerless. Hope for then is transferred to the next life. There we can hope to find peace and hope to understand it “all by and by”.
Social ethicist, Miguel De La Torre in his book, Embracing Hopelessness, writes Hope is “a middleclass privilege” that soothes the conscience of those complicit with oppressive structures, lulling them to do nothing except look forward to a future where every wrong will be righted.”
This is not the way for this nameless woman. She decides to kick down the door and declare “I am here though the society may place me last, God says otherwise.” She refused to be treated as secondary while others receive primary care. She boldly declared in her act to tell Jairus to wait his turn. Jesus will come to you and heal you but THIS IS MY BREAKOUT MOMENT.
My friends often times we are the ones who place the limitations on God’s love and by extension God’s power. We are guilty of giving greater power to Jairus than to our own need for Jesus. The disciples scoffed at the idea of that wayside healing for they saw only the trees while Jesus saw the flower. Maybe they were more excited by the fact that Jairus came to them for help. The folks scoffed at Jesus who could give life to a dead girl. Sometime the church can find itself in many ways standing on the opposite of Jesus for it is yet to appreciate its call to be the presence of God, which stands on the side of the oppressed and the invisible.
Jairus had to abandon all his religious and cultural upbringing in order to beg Jesus to save his daughter. He had to abandon his cultural trappings in order to meet Jesus. Yet it seems the role of the church is to sustain cultural settings over the power of Jesus to transform the world. Its dogma seems to be an anti-thesis of its actions within urban communities.
To be a Christ believer as understood by both the healed woman and a rejoicing Jairus is to display ones willingness to participate in the prophetic word of God which establishes justice and love in the present and not a reward for the afterlife. Those who are willing to achieve healing must be willing to have a faith that shouts in defiance “I am here and I need my portion of God’s love” In the words of the hymn “When on others thou art calling do not pass me by”
Jesus has enough power to heal the old and the young, the living and the dead was a concept the disciples had to struggle and wrestle with before they surrendered to their faith. It is the same struggle of Jairus, the pressing crowd and the ridiculing crowd. In the face of the most oppressive disease that urban communities face, racism stands in the way of the healing and wholeness that God promised through Christ Jesus.
For us in urban ministry our biggest challenge seems to be able to declare to those who have been burnt and scarred by religious hopelessness, is Jesus has the last word. One woman sick, bleeding, looking and smelling awful believed in something greater than all the sum of her brokenness and shame. She believed in the powerful love of God in Christ Jesus which transcends people and cultural settings. She believed in love and reached out and touched Jesus and her whole world was transformed.
Join us at St Elizabeth’s on Sunday as we, in acts of defiance, throw off cloaks of hopelessness and grab hold of faith in Jesus Christ to transform our lives, our homes and our communities.